Here, Have A Nice Debussy Suite

Classical Music Hour with Fran

Things are not great right now, are they? Generally speaking, I mean. Even the most upbeat and good-natured people I know — and I know a handful, trust me, I’m from the Midwest — are pretty beat down by just about everything.

So here. Let’s listen to some Debussy. Claude Debussy was a French composer in the latter half of the nineteenth century who was technically a romantic-era composer but mostly an Impressionist (you know, water lilies, etc.). He and Maurice Ravel were the Impressionist guys of the time, harboring a love-hate relationship with one another to be explored in another column because I am trying to focus on nice things this week. I’ve always mixed them up because both of them focused on these tone poem-esque symphonies and suites. Everything was telling a story or describing a scene. It was okay if each movement sounded pretty different, not necessarily carrying over “themes,” in order to describe individual parts of a whole. Petite Suite, for example, drew heavily on poems by Paul Verlaine about nice days outside in the country. You know what literally all of us need? A nice day outside in the country.

The Petite Suite consists of four movements and was originally written for piano, premiering in 1889. It’s short, relatively speaking, only thirteen minutes in length. I know it, as mentioned above, having played the orchestral arrangement by Henri Büsser when I was in college. I prefer the orchestral version, personally, but that’s mostly because it just sounds fuller to me. I don’t know. Pick whatever you want.

The four movements are as follows:

  1. En bateau (sailing)
  2. Cortège (Retinue): Moderato
  3. Menuet: Moderato
  4. Ballet: Allegro giusto

Or also:

  1. On a nice country rowboat having a nice day and maybe you have a parasol, I don’t know
  2. Cortège and retinue are synonymous for going around with your posse of kind servants who say they like you and who knows, they probably do because you’re nice to them
  3. Kinda slow dance
  4. Faster dance

You can see why I had the fourth movement in particular stuck in my head. It’s just nice! It’s like a nice piece of music that requires no additional thought than, “hm, this is extremely nice.”

Listen to a nice piece of music while you walk around the block. It’s thirteen minutes. That is a reasonable amount of time to take a break from everything. It’s not even slow nice music. It’s upbeat nice music. Things will get stressful and bad, and the fourth movement will still be in your head, echoing around.

Fran Hoepfner is a writer who used to be a musician, but not in an acoustic guitar sense, more in the the movie Whiplash sense. As kids her age discovered the popular music of the early ’00s , Fran spent 10–15 hours a week in private lessons for piano or playing timpani in several Chicagoland youth symphonies. Because of that, she didn’t discover pop music until 2008, and now her music library is almost exclusively classical. You should listen to more classical music, not for any self-important reason, but just because it’s more accessible than you think it is. Also it’s very good.